In the hours that followed the heartbreaking attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C., politicians and pundits offered their lists of suspects. There was Osama bin Laden, of course, and Islamic fundamentalists in general. The subject of chapter one of Them, Omar Bakri Mohammed, has often referred to himself as bin Laden's man in London. He has claimed to have sent as many as seven hundred of his British followers abroad to Jihad training camps, including bin Laden's in Afghanistan. On September 13, 2001, Omar Bakri was quoted in the London Daily Mail as saying, "When I first heard about it, there was some initial delight about such an attack. I received a phone call and said, 'Oh, wow, the United States has come under attack.' It was exciting."
Omar Bakri was subsequently arrested by the British police for making inflammatory statements, including calling for a fatwa against President Musharraf of Pakistan for supporting American action against the Taliban. As I write this, the home secretary, David Blunket, is considering prosecuting or deporting Omar Bakri.
I telephoned Omar Bakri on the evening of his arrest. I expected to find him in defiant mood. But he seemed scared.
"This is so terrible," he said. "The police say they may deport me. Why are people linking me with bin Laden? I do not know the man. I have never met him. Why do people say I am bin Laden's man in Great Britain?"
"Because you have been calling yourself bin Laden's man in Great Britain for years," I said.
"Oh Jon," said Omar. "I need you more than ever now. You know I am harmless, don't you? You know I am just a clown. You know I am laughable, don't you?"
"I don't know," I said.
"Oh Jon," said Omar. "Why don't people believe me when I tell them that I am just a harmless clown?"
For Omar Bakri, and for Osama bin Laden, the war is not between governments. It is between civilizations. They considered the financial traders who worked inside the twin towers to be the foot soldiers, conscious or otherwise, of the New World Order, an internationalist Western conspiracy conducted by a tiny, secretive elite, whose ultimate aim is to destroy all opposition, implement a planetary takeover, and establish themselves as a World Government.
All that lust for oil, said Omar Bakri, that nefarious pact between the U.S. and the Zionists, all that foreign policy, were just fragments of a greater conspiracy. So Omar Bakri and Osama bin Laden are conspiracy theorists. They are believers in a shadowy elite who meet in secret and plot the carve up of our planet. This is a book about that conspiracy theory about the secret rulers of the world, and about those people who believe in them. Other politicians and journalists, in the immediate aftermath of the attacks, cautioned against a rush to judgement. American militias and far-right wingers, they said, had long expressed their hatred of the New World Order they imagined the workers inside the twin towers served.
In other parts of our world, different theories were offered. Many anti-New World Order conspiracy theorists, naturally, blamed the secret elite themselves. This is what they do, they said. They create chaos, and from the ashes of this chaos will rise their terrible World Government. Some conspiracy theorist gurus (like David Icke, the subject of chapter six) believe that this shadowy elite, this Illuminati, deliberately leave little esoteric clues, symbols that prove their guilt if one knows how to read them. But the best David Icke has so far come up with is the date: September 11. 911. The telephone number of the emergency services.
This book began its life as a series of profiles of extremist leaders, but it quickly became something stranger. My plan had been to spend time with those people who had been described as the political and religious monsters of the Western world Islamic fundamentalists, neo-Nazis, etc. I wanted to join them as they went about their everyday lives. I thought that perhaps an interesting way to look at our world would be to move into theirs and stand alongside them while they glared back at us.
And this is what I did with them for a while. But then I found that they had one belief in common: that a tiny elite rules the world from inside a secret room. It is they who start the wars, I was told, elect and cast out the heads of state, control Hollywood and the markets and the flow of capital, operate a harem of underage kidnapped sex slaves, transform themselves into twelve-foot lizards when nobody is looking, and destroy the credibility of any investigator who gets too close to the truth.
I asked them specifics. Did they know the whereabouts of the secret room? But their details were sketchy. Sometimes, they said, these elitists meet in hotels and rule the world from there. Every summer, they added, they team up with presidents and prime ministers to attend a Satanic summer camp where they dress in robes and burn effigies at the foot of a giant stone owl.
I took it upon myself to try to settle the matter. If there really was a secret room, it would have to be somewhere. And if it was somewhere, it could be found. And so I set about trying to find it.
This turned out to be a hazardous journey. I was chased by men in dark glasses, surveilled from behind trees, and unlikely as it might sound right now I managed to witness robed international CEOs participate in a bizarre pagan owl-burning ritual in the forests of northern California.
One night, in the midst of my quest to find the secret room, I was back in London playing poker with another Jewish journalist, John Diamond. He asked me what I was up to. I ranted about how the extremists were onto something, how they were leading me to a kind of truth, and so on.
John, who suffered from throat cancer and consequently needed to write everything down, immediately found a blank page in his notepad and furiously scribbled, "You are sounding like one of THEM."
The word THEM was written with such force that it scored through the paper. Was John right? Had I become one of them? Whatever, I would have liked to express my gratitude to him for giving me the idea for the book's title, but he died shortly before its publication.
A question I've been asked is by what criteria I have defined the people within this book as extremists. The answer is, I haven't. My only criterion is that they have been called extremists by others.
One thing you quickly learn about them is that they really don't like being called extremists. In fact they often tell me that we are the real extremists. They say that the Western liberal cosmopolitan establishment is itself a fanatical, depraved belief system. I like it when they say this because it makes me feel as if I have a belief system.
Copyright © 2002 by Jon Ronson